Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Nefs: Good fortune table ornaments

One of the reasons I enjoy traveling is because you're exposed to so many new things.  New tastes, smells, sights, ideas, people, and information.  While at Blois Castle in France two weeks ago, a small item in a glass display case captured my attention.  It is a prime example of "the new" that surfaces to me through travel.
Photo by: F. Lauginie 2012

I was visiting Blois Castle's current exhibit about food during the Renaissance.  Beside some silverware in one of the display cases was a very decorative metal ship.

The blurb beside the ship told me that it was a nef.  A nef is a metal table ornament from the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods, made in the shape of a ship.  This particular nef was used to hold cutlery and napkins, though some nefs also housed spices.

I think it goes without saying that nefs were only found on tables of the wealthy.  What was not so obvious is that nefs were placed in front of the most noble at the feast.

And why in the shape of a ship?  This short paper by Doug Strong states that a ship was used "to symbolize 'good fortune and fair sailing on the uncertain seas of Life.'"  Strong quoted Georgina Reynolds Smith's Table Decoration: Yesterday Today and Tomorrow in that passage.

This object was used for centuries by the nobles in the past, yet I had never heard of such a thing.  Perhaps it is more commonly known in European history, though with my patchy history knowledge it does not surprise me that I did not know of its existence until two weeks ago.

Knowing what a nef is and how it was used is not going to cause a notable change on my perspective of life, but it does make me feel a little closer to the past.  More importantly, it keeps me thirsty and excited to find out what else I have been living without knowing during the past twenty-three years.  There is always something new to learn.

Was anyone familiar with nefs prior to reading about them here or were they new to you?

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